With the arrival of Brett Donowho’s “The Old Way”, Nicolas Cage gets the chance to star in his first Western.
While the genre is far from its heyday of the 40’s and 50’s, respect for “oaters” still lives in the hearts of cinema connoisseurs. Recently, Walter Hill returned to the genre with his Budd Boetticher homage “Dead for a Dollar” and Kevin Costner is currently shooting an epic about the settlement of the American West.
In today’s unadventurous Hollywood, it is only stars such as Kevin Costner who carry the weight to receive big studio budgets for Westerns. Even Hill’s film suffered from financial cuts and a nothing release, though he is a long-respected filmmaker with many successes under his belt.
The genre has been unfairly relegated to On Demand and streaming service releases, a true shame, as the Western deserves a big canvas.
Although this film will receive a limited release (January 6 in select theaters and January 13 On Demand), Donowho proves himself a worthy player in the quest to keep the genre alive.
This may be a “B” Western with a well-worn plot, but the director and screenwriter Carl W. Lucas make this a solid entertainment.
Cage stars as Colton Briggs, a reformed gunman with a wife (Kerry Knuppe) and young daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong).
The film opens with the public hanging of a man named Robert McCallister (Boyd Kestner), while his young son looks on. When the hanging gets interrupted through a series of violent events, Briggs kills McCallister, his son still watching.
Moving forward 20 years, we find the rehabilitated Briggs with his wife sharing time on a beautiful sunny morning. After a peaceful and loving moment together, she asks her husband to walk their daughter to school.
While father and daughter are gone, the now grown son of MCalilister (Noah Le Gros), comes to the Briggs home with his band of killers (Clint Howard, Abraham Benrubi, and Shiloh Fernandez) and murders the wife.
Regardless of the warning from the local marshal (the great Nick Searcy, right at home in a Western), Briggs will have his vengeance.
What follows is Cage and his daughter tracking the villains, time he uses to teach her how to shoot and find her feelings.
The moments spent with Cage and Armstrong are too short. The film would have benefited from longer, deeper conversations. It is unclear why Briggs’ daughter can’t seem to cry for her dead mother and the potency of the character suffers a bit. That said, Armstrong gives a good performance.
Cage is fine as the gunslinger. The film wastes no time getting him back to his violent ways and makes the buildup interesting and he tracks the men who destroyed his tranquil new life. One of our finest character actors, Cage wears the hat and duster well and gives a rightfully subdued yet menacing performance.
The film looks great. Cinematographer Sion Michel shoots with a feel for the visual style old Western action pictures, allowing for the countryside to become a supporting character.
Tesla Hastings’ excellent Production Design brings authenticity to the settings (she is doing Nic Cage’s upcoming Western, “Butcher’s Crossing”) and Andrew Morgan Smith writes an old-style score with some powerful orchestral arrangements that, in a few moments, echo the work of composer Jerry Fielding.
One small stumbling block for the film is in its finale. As the baddies wait in town for Briggs to show up, there isn’t the full presence of doom set up in earlier scenes. The final gun battle seems too rushed. At the same time, it is directed with a more realistic feel (as was the final shootout in Costner’s “Open Range”), as the director was wise to not use slow motion or overdone booming gun blasts from the Foley Artists. People shoot and hide and run and shoot and die. The sequence could have been a bit longer, but it works.
This is a quality tale of revenge featuring a good cast, a well-written script (Screenwriter Lucas gets in some potent thoughts about death, regret, and consequence), a poetic ending, and focused direction from a filmmaker who respects the genre.
There aren’t many Westerns these days. Embrace the good ones when you can.
“The Old Way” is a very good one. Saddle up.
The Old Way
Written by Carl W. Lucas
Directed by Brett Donowho
Starring Nicolas Cage, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Nick Searcy, Noah Le Gros
R, 95 Minutes, Lionsgate/Saturn Films/Tri-Fold Pictures